‘Education is the proper employment, not only of our early years, but of our whole lives.’

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‘Education is the proper employment, not only of our early years, but of our whole lives.’

William Roscoe, 1817 (painting by Martin Archer Shee (1815-17)

Last term I attended a special lecture on the history of Continuing Education (CE) at Liverpool, delivered by Dr Anna Pilz. Based on archive material going back more than one hundred years, Anna’s lecture built on and extended what we knew from her booklet, Continuing Education at the University of Liverpool (commissioned to celebrate the centenary of CE’s home, 126 Mount Pleasant) which started life in The Royal Institute, opened by William Roscoe in 1817. Reading his motto inspired me to be more determined than ever to support and promote today’s CE.

I was fascinated and delighted to learn that the idea for local university lectures had been first mooted by suffragist Miss Anne J. Clough who, with others, established the North of England Council for Promoting the Higher Education of Women in 1867. In the same year the Council invited James Stuart of Trinity College Cambridge to give a lecture. He was so impressed he took the idea back with him and inaugurated university extension lectures in his own institution. The idea spread to London, Oxford and back to Liverpool, becoming the ‘Society for University Extension in Liverpool and District’ in October 1899, operating under the auspices of the brand new University College Liverpool.

From reading Anna’s report we already knew about the huge number of people who attended lectures before the First World War, and had read of the often heroic efforts on the part of staff and students to continue learning and teaching during the privations of the two wars . But her lecture brought it to life, and made us realise just how precious learning is.

‘The war, if anything, seems to have stimulated the attendance as people apparently found some “outlet” or other mental activity essential.’

English Literature tutor in Fleetwood

Over the years there have been many changes to the name and the building from which we operate. And of course, to the wider cultural, economic and educational context in which what is now Continuing Education operates, but it has always held on to its core values.

‘The extra-mural department of a university is part of the machinery of dissemination, the agency through which university knowledge and university values are made available beyond the immediate confines of the university community.’

Thomas Kelly, Adult Education at the Crossroads, Inaugural Lecture Series (Liverpool University Press, 1969), p. 16. 

The numbers of students has fluctuated, with hundreds coming to lectures in the early days, and after the wars, through to programmes for medical professionals before the medical school was created. Longer accredited courses for teachers and the general public that involved trips to exotic places took place in the 1980s.


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Dr William Rollinson’s Iceland study tour in the 1980s


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Peel Castle, Isle of Man – teaching excavation


Today we continue to offer around 200 courses a year taken by some 3,000 learners who range from current university undergraduates gaining extra knowledge and skills, to returners to study and older students learning for personal development and for fun.

Attendees at the lecture had the chance to share their own experiences of CE. One man proudly announced that he has been taking CE courses for over forty years. A woman explained that she didn’t have much education but had wanted to try something. With trepidation she took a non-accredited art history course and has never looked back. She was full of praise for the tutors and the high standard of teaching. Others were CE tutors who spoke of the pleasure in teaching diverse and engaged classes. You can find the 2015/16 prospectus here.

I would like to extend my personal thanks to Anna for her research and for reminding us that learning is a joy and something we should continue to do throughout our lives. Just as William Roscoe said.

Anne Qualter

Director of Academic Development and Lifelong learning